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- The Rise of David Levinsky - 90/102 -
I felt the color mounting to my face as I said, "I don't think your daughter would like it."
"My daughter?" he asked, in amazement. "But I have three daughters."
"The one that spent some time at the Rigi Kulm in the Catskills last summer."
"Anna?" he asked, with still greater surprise, as it were
"I don't know her first name, but I suppose that's the one."
"If she was at the Rigi Kulm, it's Anna."
"Well, I had the pleasure of meeting her there, but I am afraid I was somewhat of a persona non grata with her," I said, in a partial attempt to make a joke of it
He dropped his glance, leveled it at me once more, and dropped it again
"Why, what was the matter?" he inquired, in great embarrassment
"Nothing was the matter. A case of dislike at first sight, I suppose."
"You'd better ask her, Mr. Tevkin." He made no reply, nor did he repeat his invitation. He was manifestly on pins and needles to get away, without having the courage to do so.
"So that's what you wanted to meet me for?" he muttered looking at the wall
"Well, I'll tell you frankly how it was, Mr. Tevkin," I said, and began with a partial lie calculated to bribe him: "I became interested in her because I heard that she was your daughter, and afterward, when I had returned to the city, I made it my business to go to the library and to read your works. My enthusiasm for your writings is genuine, however, I assure you, Mr. Tevkin.
And when I went to that café it was for the purpose of making your acquaintance, as much for your own sake as for hers. There, I have told you the whole story."
There was mixed satisfaction and perplexity in his look
The next morning my mail included a letter from him. It was penned in Hebrew. It read like a chapter of the Old Testament. He pointed out, with exquisite tact, that it was merely as a would-be courtier that I had failed to find favor in his daughter's eyes--something that is purely a matter of taste and chance. He then went on to intimate that if the unfortunate little situation rendered it at all inconvenient for me to visit his house he did not see why he and I could not continue our friendly relations
"If I have found as much grace in thine eyes as thou hast found in mine," he wrote, "it would pain me to forfeit thy friendship. Let the unpleasant incident be forgotten, then. I have a very important business proposition to make, but should it fail to arouse thine interest, why, then, let all business, too, be eliminated, and let our bond be one of unalloyed friendship. I have been hungry for a fellow-spirit for years and in thee I have found one at last. Shall I be estranged from thee for external causes?"
Whereupon he went into raptures over a prospective real-estate company of which he wanted me to be a leading shareholder. Companies or "combines" of this sort were then being formed on the East Side by the score and some of them were said to be reaping fabulous profits.
My Hebrew, which had never been perfect (for the Talmud is chiefly in Chaldaic and Aramaic), was by now quite out of gear. So my answer was framed partly in Yiddish, but mostly in English, the English being tacitly intended for his daughter, although he understood the language perfectly. I said, in substance, that I was going to be as frank as he was, that I did not propose to invest more money in real estate, and that I asked to be allowed to call on his daughter. The following passage was entirely in English: "I have made a misleading impression on Miss Tevkin. I have done myself a great injustice and I beg for a chance to repair the damage. In business I am said to know how to show my goods to their best advantage. Unfortunately, this instinct seems often to desert me in private life. There I am apt to put my least attractive wares in the show-window, to expose some unlovable trait of my character, while whatever good there may be in me eludes the eye of a superficial acquaintance.
"Please assure your daughter that it is not to force my attentions upon her that I am asking for an interview. All I want is to try to convince her that her image of me is, spiritually speaking, not a good likeness."
Two days passed. In the morning of the third I received a telephone-call from Tevkin, asking to meet me. Impelled by a desire to impress him with my importance, I invited him to my place of business. When he came I designedly kept him in my waiting-room for some minutes before I received him. When he was finally admitted to my private office he faced me with studied indifference. He said he had only a minute's time, yet he stayed nearly an hour. He asked me to come to his house. He spoke guardedly, giving vague answers to my questions. The best I could make of his explanation was that his daughter had been prejudiced against me by the fact that everybody at the Rigi Kulm had looked upon me as a great matrimonial "catch."
"Mv children have extremely modern ideas," he said. "Topsy-turvy ones." His face brightened, and he added: "The old rule is, 'Poverty is no disgrace.' Their rule is, 'Wealth is a disgrace.'" And he flushed and burst into a little laugh of approbation at his own epigram
"I suppose your daughter regarded me as a parvenu, an upstart, an ignoramus," I remarked
"No, not at all. She says she heard you say some clever things."
"Still, your letter was a surprise to her. She had not thought you capable of writing such things."
What really had occurred between father and daughter concerning my desire to call I never learned
Tevkin's house was apparently full of Socialism. Indeed, so was the house of almost every intellectual family among our immigrants. I hated and dreaded that world as much as ever and I dreaded Miss Tevkin more than ever, but, moth-like, I was drawn to the flame with greater and greater force. I went to the Tevkins' with the feeling of one going to his doom
CHAPTER IV THE family occupied a large, old, private house in the Harlem section of Fifth Avenue, a locality swarming with our people. I called at 8 in the evening. It was in the latter part of March, nearly eight months after my unfortunate experience in the Catskills. I was received in the hall by Tevkin. He took me into a spacious parlor whose walls were lined with old book-cases and book-stands. There I found Anna and two of the other children of the numerous family. She wore a blouse of green velvet and a black four-in-hand tie. She welcomed me with a cordial handshake and a gay smile, as though all that had transpired between us had been a childish misunderstanding, but she was ill at ease. As for me, I was literally panic-stricken. It was at this moment, when I came face to face with her for the first time in the eight months following that Catskill incident, that I became aware of being definitely in love with her
The book-cases and book-stands were full to bursting. There was a piano in the room and two tables littered with books, prints, and photographs. The space between book-cases and over the piano was hung with etchings, crayons, pen-and-ink drawings, and photographs. The other two of Tevkin's children present were a chubby girl of twelve, named Gracie, and a young man of twenty-eight, two or three years older than Anna, named Sasha. Sasha had a half-interest in an evening preparatory school in which he taught mathematics, being now confined to the house by a slight indisposition
Mrs. Tevkin made her appearance--a handsome old woman of striking presence, tall, almost majestic, with a mass of white hair, with the beautiful features of the girl who was the cause of my being there. I thought of Naphtali. I had a desire to discover his address and to write him about my meeting with the hero and heroine of the romance of which he had told me a few months before I left Antomir. "I go to their house. She is still beautiful," I pictured myself saying to him. Her demeanor and the very intonation of her speech seemed to proclaim the fact that she was the daughter of that illustrious physician of Odessa. It did not take me long to discover, however, that under the surface of her good breeding and refinement was a woman of scant intellect
Seeing me look at the book-cases, she said: "These are not all the books we have. There are some in the other rooms, too. Plenty of them. It's quite a job for an American servant-girl to dust them."
Anna smiled good-humoredly
The next utterance of Mrs. Tevkin's was to the effect that one had to put up with crowded quarters in America--a hint at the better days which the family had seen in Russia
Anna's younger sister, Elsie, a school-teacher, came in. She had quicker movements and a sharper look than the stenographer and she bore strong resemblance to her father. Anna was the prettier of the two. We went down into the dining-room, where we found Russian tea, cake, and preserves.
Presently we were joined by George, an insurance-collector, who was between Anna and Sasha, and Emil, an artist employed on a Sunday paper, who was between Anna and Elsie. Emil was a handsome fellow with a picturesque face which betrayed his vocation. The crayons and the pen-and-ink drawings that I had seen in the library were his work. He had a pale, high forehead and a thick, upright grove of very soft, brown hair which I pictured as billowing in a breeze like a field of rye. "Just the kind of son for a poet to have," I thought
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